We know, we know…this seems like a strange topic to address. Words like “predictable” are not often esteemed in our world today. At best, being predictable feels boring, and at worst, it comes across as ineffective. Let’s be honest—when leadership traits are discussed, predictability is probably not top of mind, if it is even brought up at all.
As leaders, we shouldn’t hastily dismiss the importance of being predictable, especially when it involves how we interact with and relate to those we lead. Walter Chen, in a blog post written several years ago, discussed the process and data Google relies on to build their teams. Through thousands of surveys completed by employees at all levels of Google, the tech giant discovered that leaders who received the most positive feedback shared a common trait—they were predictable and consistent.
What is it about being predictable that seems to resonate with people? We think it may be that predictability generates other characteristics that desirable leaders and culture possess.
Being predictable builds respect and trust.
As human beings, we are drawn to people who are steadfast in their values, even when we don’t completely agree with them. As leaders, we have personal values that drive our leadership. Likewise, our organizations have professional values and standards that should be upheld by all employees, and especially by leaders. Those personal and professional values and standards can be cheapened (along with our reputations) when others see that we are not consistent in enforcing them ourselves. The opposite is also true. When people see their leaders uphold what they believe, respect grows.
And with respect, comes trust. Do we want the people we lead to have faith in our ability to guide and direct? Do we want them to believe that we are taking them somewhere good and prosperous? If so, we must be so consistent that we become predictable. Predictable in how we interact with our team members, regardless of the situation or circumstance at hand (or the person we are interacting with). Predictable in demanding and modeling what is acceptable and unacceptable within our organization. Predictable in addressing habits that undermine our team and our culture. As people see repeated action over time, they will come to know what to expect from us and be able to trust that we will continue to act as we have.
When we, as leaders, are consistent to the point of predictability, those around us will begin to see the positive patterns that we walk in, understand and follow us in those patterns, and be able to approach us with confidence.
Which leads to the second reason we believe predictability matters.
Being predictable births consistency and freedom.
It is very likely that we have all worked for someone who was highly inconsistent in their leadership. It can be frustrating, perhaps even maddening, to try and follow someone when their style, mood, and priorities seemingly change with each situation or circumstance. If you have ever been in that type of environment, do you feel that you thrived in that season? Did you do your best work? Were you able to be consistent? Probably not. It’s ironic that most unstable leaders are quick to demand stability from those they lead and yet will never achieve it because it is basically impossible for followers to orient to consistency around an inconsistent leader.
As the old analogy goes, a leader is like the rudder of the boat; as they move, so moves the organization they lead. When a leader is inconsistent and unpredictable, that boat rocks…a lot. If we want to know what we can expect out of our team members, they must know what they can expect from us. Consistency breeds consistency.
And that’s when the cultural magic starts to happen. When we are predictable, our team members find breathing room and confidence in how they operate, as the fear of the unknown is removed. Instead of spending time and energy wondering how we will react, or whether our mood will affect our interactions with them, our team can direct their focus to finding solutions within the boundaries that have been clearly marked. In short, our predictability helps to unlock our team’s ability to be creative and maximize their productivity.
Reflection: What values or traits do you hope you constantly present in your leadership? What are one or two areas of your leadership in which you can work towards greater consistency and predictability?